(This is my first attempt at a short story in a very long time. Thank you for your patience and understanding)
Going to the fortuneteller had probably been a stupid idea, but he had been young and curious. At the time, it had been easy to dismiss, an event so far in the future it had almost been non-existent, and those psychics are full of crap anyway, right? Yet, he had paid his money, gotten his reading and now, at long last, his appointment had come, and all the time in the world had not gotten him ready for it.
The damn clock on the wall kept ticking, loudly counting off the moments to destiny. What had ever possessed him to buy a pendulum clock? Before now, it had seemed like a quiet thing, barely noticeable, but now the pendulum arm beat a steady staccato as loud as any marching band. For a moment, he considered taking it down, silencing it, smashing it against the wall, but instead, it remained in its place, reliably doing its duty.
He took the gun out of his shoulder holster and laid it on the desk in front of him, musing on its well-worn grip. He had had this piece for a very long time, and occasionally done things with it that he wasn’t proud of. He barked a mocking laugh before dragging a hand across his face. Who was there to kid now? He had done things with this gun that had destroyed lives and hurt people, things that he really shouldn’t have, and one day he was going to pay for it.
He could still recall the day he had bought it out of the back of some guy’s car. It had been his first one, and it felt like he had gained some godly power, the heavy weight of death in the palm of his hand. There had been many others since that day, but this one had always remained, a dark talisman for his evil luck. Immaculately cleaned and cared for, gleaming like a storm at sea, but he could still see his every sin in its shine.
Some people had bad luck and bad things happened to them, but he had made an almost conscious effort to do everything wrong that he could. There was a thrill to breaking society’s taboos, and he had loved the ride.
The clock broke his revelry to remind him the time was passing. It seemed a million years and it was all going by way too fast.
He had decided on the dark blue suit for his date with foreordination. It was a strange mix of inevitably mixed with the need to control something, shaded with a hopeful disbelief. He felt foolish for even giving it as much thought as he had, as if his concern could empower the foretelling, but he couldn’t stop himself and he had given it more thought that he felt comfortable admitting to himself. Something about the blue suit always made him think, in another reality, he would have been a better person, somehow. The midnight color brought to mind a police officer when he caught a glimpse of a sleeve, but not in a way that made him nervous like he normally did when thinking of authority.
The memory floated to the surface about that one girl who had mistaken him for a cop when he wore his blue suit. There was nothing in particular that actually made him look like a cop, short of the color, but she had run to him and called him ‘Officer’ and for a minute, he longed to feel like that trust had been justified.
He shooed the thought away as if forgetting it would mean that he could escape the justice for it. It had not been a good night and it had not ended well.
His eye rested again on the cold, dark comfort of the deadly steel in front of him. Had there ever been a time where his fate could have been changed? Maybe if he had not gotten to the meet in time, and had never bought this gun, would he have been someone else?
The familiar dream overtook him and he was standing in front of a yellow clapboard house. It was his favorite daydream, always the same but always slightly different. There was a woman who loved him, who could make his difficult days disappear with a smile. She was smiling at him now, like the sun through the clouds. Here were his children, two girls with shining hair and welcoming smiles, coming around the house over impossibly green grass. They were glad that he was home and glad to see him, just like they were everyday when he came home, running out to meet him as if waiting for him to come inside was just a few minutes longer than they had wanted to wait outside his company. In fact, he had never actually seen the inside of the yellow clapboard house…
tock, tock, tock
He inhaled sharply, like someone had dashed him in the face with icy water. His mind grasped after the gossamer strands of the dream but the magic had already broken in the harsh light of reality. There were times it had felt so vivid, looking through the eyes of someone else though they were still his eyes. The comfort he gained from this moments never lasted long under the weight of the Is.
Goddamn stupid clock.
The office was painted in neglect and nicotine, with dreary light through dirty glass a grimy orange of the streetlight directly outside the window. He rarely came here, really nothing more than a mailing address, but here he sat in the creaking office chair no one had sat in since he had put it behind the gray metal desk. For a minute, he checked the empty drawers for some distraction. Every moment was precious, but he didn’t want to think about it.
There were plans and there were plans, but this one had been a work of art, lovingly created and every detail polished. Every contingency had been accounted for, every mishap anticipated… Well, except for one. He wasn’t sure who had rolled on him, but even the most perfect plan is going to have its flaws, especially if they are being broadcast beyond the intended recipients.
He could still recall the exact moment he realized that something was wrong, five minutes after the point of no return. There had been a moment of fluttery fear that pierced his soul, as he suddenly cast about for an exit, but at that point it had already been too late and nothing more to do than to keep going until it had all fell apart. Just as quickly, he had dismissed his doubts. He had had them before but pressed on and it had all come out all right, but this time was different, and it shoved a glass sliver right into his heart. When it fell apart, it fell apart quickly with screaming, blood and light.
He had always been sure-footed and quick on his feet, but a slip on the wet pavement sent him sprawling, and was all that had kept him alive. The initial volley wiped out most of his crew in one pass, and he lay as still as the grave for a moment, for a thousand years, waiting. Then, the light twitched and he had oozed down an alley as quickly as he could with a bullet in his leg. He hadn’t even noticed it was there until his leg began refusing to take his weight, but his knee suddenly gave out and sent him sprawling once again, though this time directly into the red burning hate of a gunshot wound. A few more steps taught him the new rules of injury, and he managed to hobble clear.
The clock was staring at him and he couldn’t decide if it had sped up or slowed down.
Why had he missed the cues that were now so obvious in hindsight? Is this how premonitions came true, because they made the event happen? If he had not visited the fortuneteller a million lifetimes ago, would this still be happening?
Now he was staring at the pendulum of the clock, its gentle swaying giving his eyes something to do, the ticking was distant when he was a thousand miles away.
He searched the faces of his crew in his mind’s eye; rebuilding telling ticks or misspoke words for the guilty party. The faces blurred after a bit, and he saw the ones he had left behind, people who had once thought that he was better than in a distant egotism. He could see moments that he had not thought of in years, happiness that he had turned away from, offers of help that might have saved him from this moment. He desperately wanted someone to blame, but in the end, he was looking at the one who carried the weight of that guilt, the man with his face and his life, more than he had ever intended and less, somehow. Inevitability has a way of bringing things back into a sharper focus.
He spent another few minutes with these ghosts from the past, wondering where his plan, the ultimate plan for his life, had gone so, so wrong. The faces streamed by in intricate detail, moments of tiny victories and defeats painted the picture of his soul until he was left with a blued hunk of metal on the desk in front of him.
He hefted the weight of the gun in his hand and considered the clock. Too soon and too late, but the weight of the weapon gave him a momentary comfort of being prepared and meeting his fate head on, not hiding in the dark, powerless and alone.
When the door burst open, he had already fired his first shot. In a thunderous booming second it was done. The floor was now glowing red with the warm blood of others and a few dark shapes were sprawled on the floor.
“Ha!,” he shouted, the happy relief was plain in his voice. “You were half right.” For the first time, he realized that he was still sitting, and he bounced from the chair with another whoop. “Goddamn fortune teller! You were half right!” He was around the desk in a flash, looking down at his grisly work in wondrous amazement, chuckling in relief. Counting his downed attackers as if confirming a miracle, he closed his eyes like a man in love. The time, the day, the circumstance, even the number of foes against him had all been right. “You were only half right.”
When he opened his eyes, he saw a dark shape in the door. He quickly brought the gun up, but he couldn’t remember how to make it work anymore. The shape in the door was an unmoving weight of darkness, and his mind reeled in shock.
“You were waiting for me,” it rasped like nightmare lacerations.
He glanced back to see that he was still seated in the old office chair, and the weight of the desk was all that held the bloody mess in place.
tock, tock, tock